Updated 9:29 p.m. ET 4/24/2014
(CNN) - What started out as a standoff over land rights may be turning into a controversy over race.
Racist comments from Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy - who earlier this month appeared to win a highly publicized standoff against federal authorities over his two-decade long illegal grazing of cattle on public land - are giving Democrats a new weapon to attack some top Republicans who earlier came to Bundy's defense.
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And the controversial comments also call into question moves by Fox News and some other conservative media that highlighted the story and painted Bundy as a hero in his battle against federal authorities.
Bundy, 67, won his standoff against federal rangers after armed militiamen came to his side. Even with the incident over, Bundy continued to talk to a dwindling crowd of media from his ranch, about 100 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
The comments that sparked the latest controversy came this weekend when Bundy recalled to supporters about a time he drove by a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, according to a report from The New York Times.
"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," Bundy said, "and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids - and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch - they didn't have nothing to do. They didn't have nothing for their kids to do. They didn't have nothing for their young girls to do.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" Bundy continued. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
What Cliven Bundy's comments on race reveal
In a press conference Thursday, Bundy defended and repeated his comments but emphasized he was merely "wondering" whether African-Americans were better off as slaves.
"And that's a question I put before the world: Are they better, or were they better then? I'm not saying I thought they should be slaves, or I wasn't even saying they was (sic) better off; I'm wondering if they're better off," he said.
Bundy said he questions whether those living under government subsidies are living as slaves to the state, but denied he held racist views.
"I might not have a very big word base or vocabulary, I guess, but let me tell you something: When I say slavery, I mean slavery...Slavery is about when you take away choices from people, and where you have forced labor," he said. "You think that's what I'm about, America? If it is, you're sure wrong, because I don't believe in any type of that stuff."
And Bundy didn't back down in an interview Thursday night with CNN's Bill Weir. He questioned whether blacks are better off now when "they don't have nothing to do with their children, their family unit is ruined (and) I don't think they have the life that they should have."
"I don't think I'm wrong," he told CNN, insisting that he'd spoken "from my heart." "I think I'm right."
Asked whether he was any more or less a "welfare queen" as those who get entitlement checks - since his cattle have been feeding off the government, literally, by eating grass on public land - Bundy said, "I might be a welfare queen, but I'll tell you I'm producing something for America and using a resource that nobody else would use or could use."
He said, "I'm putting red meat on your table. Maybe I'm not doing enough, but I'm trying."
'Comments are completely beyond the pale'
Thursday morning, hours after The New York Times story went viral, the Nevada Democratic Party put out a statement saying "These comments are reprehensible, and every Republican politician in the state of Nevada who tried to latch on to Cliven Bundy's newfound celebrity with TEA Partiers and the militia movement should be ashamed of their actions."
"Every Republican elected official who risked inciting violence to gain political capital out of Cliven Bundy now owes the people of Nevada an apology for their irresponsible behavior of putting their own political future ahead of the safety of Nevadans," added the Nevada Democrats.
Some top national Republicans quickly condemned the remarks.
Sen. Rand Paul, who originally supported Bundy's case, issued a statement Thursday morning decrying Bundy's racial comments.
"His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him," said the Kentucky Republican, who's seriously considering a 2016 presidential run.
GOP Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who earlier called his supporters "patriots", also "completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy's appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way," according to his spokesperson, Chandler Smith.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who had not previously weighed in on the land dispute, said in a statement that "Bundy's comments are completely beyond the pale. Both highly offensive and 100% wrong on race."
Democrats had already been on the attack against Bundy before his racial comments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – Nevada's senior senator - last week blasted Bundy's supporters as "domestic terrorists," saying they were arming themselves with automatic weapons and positioning "snipers in strategic locations."
One man, former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack told a reporter the militia were considering putting "all the women" on the front lines.
"If they're going to start shooting, it's going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers," he said.
Questions about media coverage
Some conservative-leaning pundits painted Bundy as an anti-goverment hero. Fox News' Sean Hannity was criticized by liberal media outlets for frequently hosting Bundy on his television program and appearing to defend the rancher.
Hannity said Thursday on his radio show that Bundy's "comments are beyond repugnant to me."
"They are beyond despicable to me. They are beyond ignorant to me," he said, adding that his interest in Bundy's case was entirely about government overreach.
He also chided what he called the liberal media, arguing that they ignore racist comments by Democrats and only focus on Republicans.
"Every conservative I know does not support racism, period," he said.
Another Fox News host, Greta Van Susteren, wrote on her blog Thursday morning that she condemns Bundy's comments.
Others had previously warned fellow conservatives not to get too fired up about the Nevada dispute. Conservative host Glenn Beck said on his show that "10 or 15 percent" of the people who were defending Bundy online were saying things "that are truly frightening."
"They don't care what the facts are," he said. "They just want a fight."
Tucker Carlson, founder of the conservative news outlet the Daily Caller, said on Fox that he sympathizes with the Bundys, but "it's important to point out that this land does not belong to them and that's not a minor distinction, it's the essence of private property."
For his part, Sen. Paul had also cautioned both sides, including Reid, to calm their rhetoric.
"Let's try to have a peaceful resolution to this," he said last week on Fox News.
While Republicans are now trying to distance themselves from Bundy, that's not stopping Democrats from going after them for supporting Bundy in the first place. And the Democratic National Committee says the incident is "more evidence of the shallowness of the GOP's outreach efforts."
"Remember Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson? His racist comments last December were in the same vein as Bundy's. Yet GOP leaders from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Lindsey Graham, and others rushed to defend (Robertson's) comments against a liberal assault. Republicans even invited the Duck Dynasty stars as their guests to the State of the Union!," wrote DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee.
"And therein lies the GOP's problem. If you ever want to be taken seriously for your outreach efforts, you might want to start by not defending racists," Elleithee added.
Battle over land rights
The Bundy standoff is emblematic of the larger anti-government sentiment around the country that has been amplified with the creation of the tea party movement in 2009. But the latest move in a two-decade-long tug of war between Bundy and the federal government is bringing to light the delicate balance that has lasted between citizens in the West and the federal government over the use of federally owned land for generations.
What made Nevada rancher fight the feds?
One protester from neighboring Utah, Stephen L. Dean, 45, called the Bureau of Land Management's actions "tyranny in government." And a banner at the protest site blared: "Has the West been won? Or has the fight just begun!"
In the western states, public lands are a big deal. Almost everyone uses them or depends on them. They are key to people's recreational hiking, fishing, hunting and skiing. And they are critical to people's livelihood, as they are used to cut timber, drill oil, mine coal and ranch cattle.
Vast swaths of the land in the West are predominately public. In Nevada, for example, 87% of the state is owned by the federal government, and the Bureau of Land Management oversees 245 million acres of public lands mostly west of the Mississippi River, not including the lands overseen by the National Forest Service and half a dozen other federal agencies.
In Nevada, ranchers depend on the federal lands for their livelihood. The government began allowing the use of the land in 1877 to promote the economic development of dry, difficult-to-cultivate desert areas. So it offered land for dirt cheap. Bundy says his family has owned the ranch since about the time the Desert Land Act passed.
A version of the law still exists today, allowing ranchers to graze their cattle on public lands for a nominal rate. The fee is cheaper than what the rancher would pay the state or a private land owner, but the tradeoff is that the rancher has to share the land with the public.
After the desert tortoise became a protected species in 1993, the Bureau of Land Management rebuked or phased out the permits of ranchers in the designated area in southern Nevada.
Bundy is the last remaining rancher, refusing to leave and refusing to pay more than $1 million worth of fines. Bundy lost all efforts at appeal and litigation. In an effort to enforce the law, the BLM attempted to round up Bundy's cattle and was met with a clan of armed defenders, leading to the current stalemate between the government and Bundy.
The Nevada Democrat had already been on the attack against Bundy before his racial comments. Last week the state's senior senator blasted Bundy's supporters as "domestic terrorists," saying they were arming themselves with automatic weapons and positioning "snipers in strategic locations."
Rand Paul says he disagrees with the comments, but he is anti-government and has said before that as leader, he would not see any law enforced that banned slavery (since he is anti-government, Paul would do away with 13th Amendment). I'm not sure if he's a hypocrite by saying he is against Bundy's comments, but he certainly needs to choose a side (either you are against slavery, you're for it, or maybe you "wonder" about it like self-described ignorant rich man Cliven Bundy).
So the smear tactics start CIA 101 get the East coast elite to start insinuating racism and the sheep will fall in place then we will get this guys land. The leftist can sleep well tonight knowing that the Communist boot has again stamped out the American way of life for another family.
I am a very Liberal and Democratic person and even I can understand what this man is trying to express. He's not suggesting that black people SHOULD be slaves, he's saying that he wonders if they're still NOT slaves. That being said, that they are dependant of the government for their livelyhood. Black americans are still, on a whole, not very productive members of society. They are uneducated (because they don't value school), they don't work (because a lot's easier to do nothing and sell drugs for profit) and they have too many mouths to feed, which falls on the government to support. Is he wrong? He's not. It has nothing to do with being racist. You can point out generalizations about a certain culture or group without it being racist. Being a racist means that you HATE a particular ethnicity. You could not-like certain traits but that doesn's mean you wish them harm.
There is nothing that this man said that is concidered offensive, IMO. Media and Politicians are just using this to twist it for their own agenda.
You better be careful...you are not allowed to say that.
"I supported Ted Bundy because he was being assaulted without due process. "
The federal government spent 20+ years giving him due process, going through all the administrative procedures and enforcement options and then going through several court cases that afforded him due process and which he eventually lost, resulting in court orders and judgments that he owed and must pay the fees. There's no lack of due process here AT ALL, just 20+ years of due process and kindly forbearance on utilizing standard collection techniques like confiscation of his cattle while he racked up over $1,000,000 in overdue fees and fines. Try failing to pay your taxes and getting away with it for 20+ years. Let us know how that works out for you.
Seems to be an attempt on the part of some to link the GOP with Bundy's racist statements. Yes, there were some GOP who supported him in his disagreement with BLM, but they had no idea that the future held these statements. They would never have supported him if they had known this was what was in store. This man, who was once a poster child for the right, will now be a poster child for the left. Politics are brutal.
What is so interesting to me is, he has been using government property freely for years, but he talks about African-Americans on welfare. Maybe there are some of us with shortcomings, but not all of us are conditioned to live off the government. I have never been on welfare or received anything from the government. Not to say I would not accept anything if I needed it, but I do not strive to receive a handout. Furthermore, the welfare system has drastically changed over the years. You do not just sit around collecting a check. You actually have to do things for the benefits now. You have to apply for jobs and you are only allowed to be on it for 5 years. Also, there are just as many Whites on welfare as there are African-Americans.
The reaction among us conservatives seems to be, "what did he say that was so bad"?
Anyone who thinks 40 years of liberal social experimentation has resulted in a better black community and social structure is a fool.
Once again the Republicans back another winner! Gotta love how Plantation owners stick together.
He's no better than a welfare cheater. Taking from the government and therefore the tax payers.
For 20 years this man refuses to pay the already low rental rate for use of public land, then gets mad when the bill comes due. (Imagine if you refused to ever pay for a parking space, how long that would last before your car was towed.) Then he says he's persecuted and lashes out at a minority he probably has nothing to do with. Oh, and allegedly he'll use women as human shields and then blame the government if one of them gets caught in the cross-fire,. There are several names for such a person, but none worth even saying.
The truth hurts, all of us. Unfortunately, Bundy relayed the absolute truth. His only problem, not being politically correct or articulate in his manner of relaying the message. I guarantee that any one of those stuck on subsidey row would have had a similar interview, just on a differing topic. The main gripe here.........the dems/libs want to cry fowl and decry racism when a large part of their voting base is exposed for with the real truth. The true topic is government over-reach. Not Bundy's uneducated response. That my friends is the true reason for the bashing. I have worked in the "projects" and he hit the nail....on the head. Anyone that refutes that is not well informed or politically motivated.
"I am a very Liberal and Democratic person..."
And then espouses an entire paragraph of extremely non liberal and non Democratic talking points taken right off hannity.
I'm not suggesting Vee is lying about being a very Liberal and Democratic person.. I'm just wondering if he isn't lyng about being a very Liberal and Democratic person.
Oh silly me... of course Vee is lying about being a very Liberal and Democratic person... I'm not going to play that silly game! In fact, Vee is quite the racist, just like this thieving uneducated rancher.
Ok, I read all his comments and couldn't fiind anything untrue in them, could it politically incorrect but if you honestly keep the race crap aside, are they not the reality?
Isn't Bundy the recipient of a million dollar government subsidy hisself? Been feeding his cattle for free the last 29 years. Please cut my taxes by paying what u owe!
All this hubbub about a man who admits to being a criminal. For 20 years, he has made money for himself by letting his cattle graze on public lands and he has refused to stop it. He's no better than a thief and anybody giving him media time on his opinions is stupid.
time to get his cows of our land
Interesting that you, CNN, choose to use the words, "after armed militiamen came to his side," rather than calling them vigilantes, or terrorists, or armed gang members. If the same thing happened on the south side of Chicago, I dare say you would not call them "armed militia- coming to some's side." It would be riot to be put down by police. And people wonder about how media colors news stories. As long as they wear a cowboy hat and raise cattle, they're PATRIOTS.
@Vee, you need to check your facts dear because you are dead wrong. I know lots of productive African Americans and guess what: they do very well, pay taxes and do not steal (contrary to popular belief). The media hones in on minorities with story after story of how bad they are, but whites are just as worse also. There are many whites on welfare so please do your research first before you speak on something you know not.
If you can't see selfishness, and greed, and a lack of concern for anything other than yourself by this point, well, you must be a republican.
I'm African American and I understand the question he poses. It's a subject that myself and other blacks discuss regularly. Racists aren't the only people who see the state of affairs within the African American community. The fact is, a lot of our people have been born and bred to know nothing about betterment. But the fact remains, not all of us are stuck in purgatory...nor are whites inherently any better than us. The issue at hand is a systemic rearing of our children, on both sides. black children are raised to believe that whites think they are inferior, and white children are raised to believe they are better than black children. (*disclaimer* I KNOW not all parents instill these thoughts, but a majority do, even if it's on a subconscious level.) I don't look down on Blacks who aren't intellectually or economically my equals because the fact is, some of those "ghetto" people are my family and I love them and I understand them. We do our best to be positive influences on everyone around us, including black children and adults who may not have another model to learn from. Some folks make disparaging, generalized remarks about an entire race of people based on the actions or perceived actions of a percentage of the race. It's unfair to my sons, my daughter and all of the other children who haven't slighted anyone. A change needs to happen, but it won't happen until we're all looked at as human beings first, not as a color first. The race issue just serves a reason to say, "This is THEIR problem." The problem belongs to us all.
I don't understand, why would his followers denounce him? Right wing extremists hate blacks fully as much as they hate gays. If anything, I would think this would make him even more popular among his followers. Sounds like an ideal Tea Party candidate to me.
People should never forget that bias,and racism and hypocracy is deep rooted in this country by whites
Get rid of this twit and take Shawn Hannity with you......